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Afghanistan Poppy Cultivation Skyrockets

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Afghanistan last year accounted for 92 percent of global opium production, compared with 70 percent in 2000 and 52 percent a decade earlier. The higher yields in Afghanistan brought world production to a record high of 7,286 tons in 2006, 43 percent more than in 2005.

A State Department inspector general's report released Friday noted that the counternarcotics assistance is dwarfed by the estimated $38 billion "street value" of Afghanistan's poppy crop, if all is converted to heroin, and said eradication goals were "not realistic."

Schweich, an advocate of the now-stalled plan, has argued for more vigorous eradication efforts, particularly in southern Helmand province, responsible for some 80 percent of Afghanistan's poppy production. It is where, he says, growers must be punished for ignoring good-faith appeals to switch to alternative, but less lucrative, crops.

"They need to be dealt with in a more severe way," he said at the conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There needs to be a coercive element, that's something we're not going to back away from or shy away from."

But, in fact, many question whether this is the right approach with Afghanistan mired in poverty and in the throes of an insurgency run by the Taliban and residual al-Qaida forces.

Along with Britain, whose troops patrol Helmand, elements in the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Defense Department and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy have expressed concern, saying that more raids will drive farmers with no other income to join extremists.

There is also skepticism about the incentives in the new strategy from those who believe development assistance should not be denied to local communities because of poppy growth, officials said.

Opponents argue that the benefits of such aid, new roads and other infrastructure, schools and hospitals, will themselves be powerful tools to combat the narcotrade once constructed.

One U.S. official said the plan was a good one but might take another year or two before it can be effectively introduced.

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On the Net:

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/

State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs: http://www.state.gov/p/inl/

Audio link to comments on new strategy by acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Thomas Schweich at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_events/task,view/id,1350/

U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/index.html


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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